Are Your Apartment Residents in Upper Story Units Ready for an Emergency Evacuation? These Three Products Can Help

In association with National Fire Prevention month, Property Management Insider is featuring a series of fire awareness and prevention articles.

Assessing your ability to escape a burning building probably isn’t something you think about every day. However, a raging fire is no match for any one, not even the most fleet of foot.

The American Red Cross and the National Fire Prevention Association regularly offer residents valuable guidance on creating an evacuation plan, as well as many other tips on smoke detectors, fire alarms, lighting exit doors, automatic sprinkler systems, and fire extinguishers.

But excessive flames and heat may prevent a resident who lives in an upper story from following the most detailed evacuation plan on foot. This is particularly true for a growing segment today – the many senior-living and assisted-care communities housed in multi-story apartment buildings.

For a resident with mobility issues, evacuating a burning building can be challenging. The same can be said for more able-bodied residents who live above the first floor, especially because elevators must not be used when there is a fire. Fires may affect electrical systems, causing elevators to stop working and trapping anyone who is inside.

Here are three useful products that can help residents, particularly those who may need assistance, evacuate from upper stories more safely:

Emergency Evacuation Chairs

Evacuation ChairThese chairs – sometimes referred to as stair chairs – enable residents to ride down a flight of stairs more safely. Chairs are typically equipped with rear rubber belt thread that enables residents to recline back and ride down even the tallest set of stairs. The chair pivots tightly to maneuver around landings and can roll freely across most surfaces. Standard wheelchairs would be difficult to maneuver down stairs without pitching the passenger forward and possibly causing a serious fall.

These evacuation chairs usually don’t require assembly, are collapsible for easy storage and can be purchased online. Most can be operated by one person but the passenger may require additional assistance depending on his or her weight. Residents who likely will need to use this evacuation method should designate a neighbor or family member to assist in an emergency and practice in advance. Chairs should meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Wheel Chairs

Disabled residents likely will have their own wheel chairs, but having extras on hand could mean saving a life. There are also special wheel chairs – similar to evacuation chairs – that are designed to go down stairs. They look like a wheel chair, but the wheels are angled differently to prevent pitching the person forward the way a normal wheel chair would. The front wheels are lower than the back so that they touch the stair below and keep the person level in the chair.

Emergency Evacuation Ladders

Escape Ladder
Several commercial evacuation ladders fit over window sills and enable evacuation from upper stories. Tenants who live in upper floors should be encouraged to purchase at least one of these ladders and, ideally, one for each bedroom in case residents in the unit need to escape separately. The end of the ladder has brackets to fit over the window. Ladders are lowered to the ground and the resident climbs down. Most ladders roll up and can be stored under the bed. Getting the right length is critical, because a third-floor resident doesn’t want to get a ladder that will only reach the second floor. As with any evacuation or fire prevention tool, practice is encouraged, especially for residents with children.

As a general rule, property owners in the multifamily industry should consult with local fire officials to understand available firefighting equipment for multi-story buildings. Apartment complex managers and property owners definitely should be familiar with all evacuation options for residents living in upper stories in the event of a fire or any disaster. Following these and other suggestions can make a big difference for your tenants and staff during an emergency evacuation.


Community Disaster Education Program Coordinator
American Red Cross, Southern Nevada Chapter

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Caren Bedsworth is the community disaster education program coordinator for the Southern Nevada Chapter of the American Red Cross, which serves Clark, Esmeralda, Lincoln, and Nye Counties. Caren has been with the Red Cross since 1999, educating communities in disaster preparedness. She has been a CPR & First Aid instructor for humans and pets, first aid station leader, and disaster training instructor. She also served on disaster relief assignments to assist victims of hurricanes in Alabama and Florida and wildfires in Arizona.

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